In 1842, the British soldiers Connolly and Stoddart were executed in front of the Ark Fortress in Bukhara. It was the grim finale to years of torture (for Stoddart - four years) in the Zindon prison located within the fortress. However, the most famous resident of Zindon was not a person, but a place: “the Bug Pit,” a four meter deep hole, accessible only by rope. This bleak pit is where Connolly and Stoddart spent their time in Zindon, while guards poured scorpions, bugs, and rodents onto their heads.
Stoddart suffered three years in the prison – more than one of which he whiled away in the Bug Pit - before Conolly was thrown down to join him; ironically, Conolly had the unfortunate fate of being sent to Bukhara to release Stoddart. They spent a year together in the Bug Pit, before the Emir finally had them executed.
The soldiers were victims of what can only be described as extreme blunders of sociopolitical etiquette. Stoddart was tasked with delivering a letter of reassurance to the Emir of Bukhara, stating that the British had no intention of continuing their invasion of Afghanistan into his kingdom. However, Stoddart had ridden into the castle on horseback rather than walking, and arrived without a gift for Nasrullah Khan, the Emir and an extremely brutal figure. Nicknamed “The Butcher,” Nasrullah was outraged at these indignities, and viewed the British Empire as a weakened nation after their defeat in Afghanistan. Regarding the two Brits as worthless, he had them jailed, tortured, and executed. The British Empire did not respond.
Today, the Bug Pit is but one of many gruesome places in the Zindon prison, in which mannequins eerily portray the conditions of imprisonment. Much of the rest of the enormous Ark fortress was destroyed by the Red Army’s invasion in 1920, thereby putting an end to continual inhabitation of the fortress for more than 1,400 years.
- Lonely Planet Central Asia; 4th Edition; July 2007